AbstractOcean biological processes play an important role in the global carbon cycle via the production of organic matter and its subsequent export. Often, this flux is assumed to be in steady state; however, it is dependent on nutrients introduced to surface waters via multiple mechanisms, some of which are likely to exhibit both intra-annual and interannual variability leading to comparable variability in ocean carbon uptake. Here we test this variability using surface (5 m) inorganic nutrient concentrations from voluntary observing ships and satellite-derived estimates of chlorophyll and net primary production. At lower latitudes, the seasonality is small, and the monthly averages of nitrate:phosphate are lower than the canonical 16:1 Redfield ratio, implying nitrogen limitation, a situation confirmed via a series of nutrient limitation experiments conducted between Bermuda and Puerto Rico. The nutrient seasonal cycle is more pronounced at higher latitudes, with clear interannual variability. Over a large area of the midlatitude North Atlantic, the winters of 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 had nitrate values more than 1μmol L−1 higher than the 2002–2017 average, suggesting that during this period, the system may have shifted to phosphorus limitation. This nitrate increase meant that, in the region between 31° and 39° N, new production calculated from nitrate uptake was 20.5g C m−2 in 2010, more than four times higher than the median value of the whole observing period. Overall, we suggest that substantial variability in nutrient concentrations and biological carbon uptake occurs in the North Atlantic with interannual variability apparent over a number of different time scales.